Charles Darwin and the Bicycle Riders

THERE’S AN OLD STORY, set in various locales, about an elderly Jew who is walking along and is approached by a bigot (Czarist thug, Prussian soldier, Nazi officer, whatever). The bigot grabs the Jew, curses him, and demands: “Who is the cause of all our troubles?” The Jew — no fool — answers, “It’s the Jews, of course.” Then he adds, “And the bicycle riders.” The puzzled bigot asks, “Why the bicycle riders?” The old man shrugs: “Why the Jews?”

What does that story have to do with Charles Darwin? Quite a bit, because the Discoveroids at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture are in the middle of a crazed propaganda war, and they’ve decided to demonize Darwin’s theory of evolution by declaring it the cause of all our problems. As part of this campaign they’re promoting the false legend of a link between Darwin’s work and Adolf Hitler. This is about the latest skirmish in that campaign of falsehoods.

Michael Ruse wrote a fine article that appeared in the Tallahassee Democrat on 06 February 2008 titled Darwin and Hitler: a not-very-intelligent link. In response, the Discoveroids, via blogger Anika Smith, have gone into extreme spin mode to re-assert the fiction about Darwin’s having inspired Hitler: Re-examining the Darwin-Hitler Link. Here we analyze some choice portions of that blog:

I agree with Ruse that Hitler’s ideology was not built solely on Darwinism. Nonetheless, Ruse does not seem to realize that Darwinism was a central, guiding principle of Nazi ideology, especially of Hitler’s own world view. Richard Evans, historian at Cambridge University, has explained, “The real core of Nazi beliefs lay in the faith Hitler proclaimed in his speech of September 1938 in science—a Nazi view of science—as the basis for action. Science demanded the furtherance of the interests not of God but of the human race, and above all the German race and its future in a world ruled by ineluctable laws of Darwinian competition between races and between individuals.” This is not a controversial claim by anti-evolutionists, but it is commonly recognized by scholars who study Nazism.

We’ve done a lot of searching on the internet, and although there are sites that give full-text translations of many Hitler speeches, including some from 1938, we can’t find anything even remotely like what the Discoveroid is discussing. What the Discoveroid blog offers is a restatement of something allegedly written by historian Richard Evans, so it’s a third-hand account of Hitler’s speech. Maybe the speech exists, maybe not. Evans is reputable, but a Discoveroid’s account of what Evans said is certainly open to question. Due to the demonstrated lack of integrity throughout the entire creationist-ID endeavour (see, for example, quote mining) we strongly suspect — but can’t prove — that this Hitler speech is a creationist fabrication. Unfortunately, it will be repeated endlessly at various creationist websites. Continuing with the Discoveroid rant:

Contra Ruse’s claim, Nazis did not abandon Darwinism because of its racial egalitarian implications. In fact, the vast majority of Darwinists in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries argued that Darwinism proved racial inequality.

Darwin himself made no such claim, nor is that “vast majority” assertion backed up by anything, but that doesn’t matter to the Discoveroids. Moving along:

Darwin claimed in chapter two of The Descent of Man that there were great differences in moral disposition and intellect between the “highest races” and the “lowest savages.”

Really? Oh, wait! When we read Chapter Two of Descent of Man we find that Darwin doesn’t exactly say what the Discoveroids claim. Instead, Darwin says this [emphasis supplied]:

The Fuegians rank amongst the lowest barbarians; but I was continually struck with surprise how closely the three natives on board H.M.S. “Beagle,” who had lived some years in England and could talk a little English, resembled us in disposition and in most of our mental faculties.

Nor is the difference slight in moral disposition between a barbarian, such as the man described by the old navigator Byron, who dashed his child on the rocks for dropping a basket of sea-urchins, and a Howard or Clarkson; and in intellect, between a savage who does not use any abstract terms, and a Newton or Shakspeare. Differences of this kind between the highest men of the highest races and the lowest savages, are connected by the finest gradations. Therefore it is possible that they might pass and be developed into each other.

O, the horror! Darwin has observed that there’s a big difference in “moral disposition” between a barbarian and a civilized man. Not only that, but there’s also a big difference in “intellect between a savage who does not use any abstract terms, and a Newton or Shakspeare.” Presumably, the Discoveroids find these observations offensive. Hey, if we were an immoral barbarian or a savage who doesn’t use abstract reasoning, we too might be offended, so we sympathize with the Discoveroids. Nevertheless, when read in its full context, Darwin’s statement isn’t racist. Moving along with the Discoveroid rant:

Later in Descent he declared, “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races.” Racial inegalitarianism was built into Darwin’s analysis from the start.

That is classic quote-mining. It’s lifted from a discussion about the sketchy nature of the fossil record. This is Darwin’s paragraph in which that quote appears, and from which it was taken out of context. [The excerpted sentence is shown in bold]:

The great break in the organic chain between man and his nearest allies, which cannot be bridged over by any extinct or living species, has often been advanced as a grave objection to the belief that man is descended from some lower form; but this objection will not appear of much weight to those who, from general reasons, believe in the general principle of evolution. Breaks often occur in all parts of the series, some being wide, sharp and defined, others less so in various degrees; as between the orang and its nearest allies—between the Tarsius and the other Lemuridæ—between the elephant, and in a more striking manner between the Ornithorhynchus or Echidna, and all other mammals. But these breaks depend merely on the number of related forms which have become extinct. At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked, will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

In its full context, we can see that this is totally unlike the Discoveroid innuendo. Darwin is not calling for or justifying genocide. This is merely a statement of what Darwin could see happening in the world of his time. Primitive tribes were becoming extinct upon contact with the outside world. The occasional “first contact” with isolated tribes which can happen even in our own time carries the same dangers, and apes are indeed approaching extinction. Darwin didn’t applaud the situation; he used it as an example to explain the apparent absence of intermediate forms.

Moving along with the Discoveroid rant:

Haeckel, whom Ruse correctly cites as the most prominent German Darwinist in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, even claimed that humanity should be divided into twelve distinct species in four separate genera. He declared repeatedly that the distance between the highest and lowest humans was wider than the distance between humans and apes.

That’s from a Discoveroid blog, so maybe Haeckel said that and maybe he didn’t. Anyway, Darwin didn’t say it. Contrary to the alleged statement by Haeckel, Darwin famously said man was only one species. We thought the Discoveroids were against “Darwinism,” not Haeckelism. After mentioning how horrible Haeckel’s views were (and failing to mention that those opinions weren’t Darwin’s) the Discoveroid blogger continues [we have put the unjustified zingers in bold]:

This Darwinian-based racial inegalitarianism was a mainstream view among early twentieth-century German scientists and scholars. Before and during the Nazi period, the leading anthropologists and eugenicists—Eugen Fischer, Fritz Lenz, Otmar von Verschuer, Hans F. K. Guenther, and many others—were all avid Darwinists and all believed that Darwinism implied racial inequality. Ruse’s claim that “Nazi ideologists quickly realized how completely antithetical the whole evolution idea was to their own ideology” is about as far from the mark as you can get.

What can we say about that mess? Even the most boneheaded Discoveroid should know what everyone else knows — virtually the whole world is and always has been steeped in notions of racial inequality. But that won’t impress the Discoveroids. Would it help to point out the obvious truth that Darwin — being outspoken against slavery and stating clearly in Descent that all humans were a single species — was probably the least racist of his contemporaries? No, that’s not enough. Will it matter to the Discoveroids if we point out that Winston Churchill and his British countrymen were unquestionably educated in Darwin’s science, yet they opposed Hitler’s policies? Shouldn’t Darwin get some credit for influencing Hitler’s enemies? No, not among Discoveroids.

Perhaps we should mention that the Japanese were probably the most racist society on earth, and Darwin had nothing to do with their ancient belief in the inherent superiority of the Japanese race. Would that cause the Discoveroids to back off from blaming Darwin for all the racism in the world? Alas, although to the rational mind it is virtually self-evident that the Discoveroids are bonkers on their “Darwinist racism” issue, pointing out these facts wouldn’t even make a ripple in their stagnant swamp of worthless dogma.

One more thing should be mentioned (although it won’t have any effect on the Discoveroids), and instead of a dubious third-hand account of Hitler’s alleged “Darwinism” we’ll give this to you first hand, with a link to the source. In Mein Kampf, Hitler clearly indicates that he’s a creationist. Check it for yourself: Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler, Volume Two, Chapter X:

For it was by the Will of God that men were made of a certain bodily shape, were given their natures and their faculties. Whoever destroys His work wages war against God’s Creation and God’s Will.

Not much “Darwinism” there. The Discoveroids don’t care, and their rant continues:

Also, I should mention that Haeckel was also the first person in German history to advance the idea that disabled people should be killed, a program the Nazis carried out. Most of the eugenicists and physicians who promoted “euthanasia” for the disabled — and most of those who carried it out under Nazism — used overtly Darwinian justifications for it.

Haeckel again, but what does that have to do with anything? We’re talking about “Darwinism” aren’t we? Isn’t it curious that England, Darwin’s own country which honors him as one of their greatest sons, didn’t behave the same way as Heackel’s Germany? Also, do the Discoveroids have any clue that eugenics goes back at least as far as Sparta? The Athenians were also familiar with the idea. Plato (the darling of the Discoveroids and of mystics everywhere) actually recommended state-supervised selective breeding of children: The Republic by Plato, Book 5.

All in all, given the quote-mining, the out-of-context quotes, the bait-and-switch from Darwin to Haeckel, the unverified Hitler speech, the ignorance of Hitler’s written declaration of his creationism, the selective projection of Darwin’s alleged influence only upon Germany and not Germany’s adversaries, and the other shaky claims and arguments in this Discoveroid blog, we think it’s a splendid example of creationism (and Intelligent Design). It’s also a lesson to anyone who thinks that these people should have a place in the education of our children.

So who is responsible for all the evils in the world? It’s Darwin, of course. And the bicycle riders.

. AddThis Social Bookmark Button . Permalink for this article

Comments are closed.